Have you ever done the exercise where you write something positive about yourself or something you desire on one side of the page and then you listen for what voices you hear in response and write that on the other side? It can be very effective for learning more about your inner voice, the tone in which you talk to yourself and the source of those responses.
When I’ve done it, I’ve uncovered some interesting negative self-talk, but nothing surprising. I’ve gotten better at not being hard with myself, but like most of us, it’s something I struggle with. Then one day at Weight Watchers my leader said something I wrote down:
I deserve self-compassion and it helps me succeed.
You would have thought I’d set off an alarm. The noise in my head was instantly loud and derisive. It was like this terrible part of me was laughing at my stupidity. Self-compassion, it said, will never help you succeed. Don’t be ridiculous. You know better. You need to be pushed, punished and forced. You’re lazy, don’t get things done without a deadline, and can’t be trusted to succeed without being properly (read: negatively) motivated.
There was so much pain there and so much truth, in the sense that this is what I deeply believed about myself. Being kind, gentle, and loving to myself was a good thing and something to aspire to – but it was never going to help me succeed. For success I needed harshness, anger, yelling. That was what I experienced as a child as being necessary, and even if I hated every moment, I managed to carry it with me as an adult and repeat it.
Having grown up with a lot of yelling, I chose to do what it took not to repeat this in my adult relationships or as a parent, and most of the time, I’m successful. But there was an important place it was still occurring – in my head. Even if I would never treat my sons this way when they were going for a goal, learning something new, or working toward an achievement – it is how I treated myself.
Is it any wonder that it was hard to get myself to work, that the joy was mitigated even when doing things I loved, and normally I could only see what I hadn’t done, what I hadn’t accomplished and where I was failing? It was because I believed that focusing on those things, putting myself down for those things, would somehow propel me into being successful.
Guess what? It didn’t. Not really.
And during those times where I did feel or achieve some success, the negative voice would smugly chime in, “See, I was right. You needed to be pushed.” There was almost no success that lasted because it was tainted with “Took you long enough” or “It’s about time” or “See, aren’t you glad I pushed?”
Since noticing that horrible self-talk back in December of last year, I have been watching and listening for when I talk to or treat myself badly, especially in connection with working toward my goals. I look at my actions with love and support, honesty and care. When I see myself doing things that self-sabotage, I try to take the time to find out what’s really wrong, what’s bothering me or what I’m afraid of. I’ve looked for and gotten some very loving support and that’s helped as well.
Have I mastered the compassionate self-talk?
Nope, not yet.
There are still times when I slip into a child-like mode. I think I’m “bad” if I’m not succeeding and therefore must be punished. As an adult, punishment comes out as different forms of self-sabotage (emotional eating is a personal favorite). I “know” I don’t deserve whatever it is I want because first I have to do more or be more successful. Only then can I have what I want.
But now I’m aware that this talk doesn’t motivate me, doesn’t support me and little by little I’m changing it.
How do I know?
I’m happier. I’m less stressed. I am definitely experiencing more joy. I’m more connected to the people around me and they’ve noticed a difference as well.
And next week Waves of Seduction, my third novel of the year, will be released. That’s a success I never experienced before – and I am enjoying and embracing every moment of it.
Shel Silverstein wrote a poem called The Voice:
There is a voice inside of you
That whispers all day long,
“I feel this is right for me,
I know that this is wrong.”
No teacher, preacher, parent, friend
Or wise man can decide
What’s right for you – just listen to
The voice that speaks inside.
I’m listening to that whisper. It’s getting louder all the time and, just as important, louder than the other voices that were there.
I wish you the same.